By Kristin Brown, manager of Rotary Service Connections
I like to say I have one of the best jobs at Rotary because in Rotary Service Connections we are responsible for many of the programs and activities that help Rotarians connect, partner and serve to make the world a better place.
Last Saturday found me in Paris where, as part of UNESCO’s 70th anniversary celebration, the organization welcomed 400-plus Rotarians and Rotaractors from more than 20 countries for Rotary Day UNESCO. The conference highlighted Rotary’s history with UNESCO and ongoing work for peace, with particular emphasis on the role of intercountry committees (ICCs). ICCs are cooperative relationships established between districts in two countries to promote bi-lateral communication and cooperation between Rotarians, leading to greater understanding and peace between peoples.
Eva Roehrig, a German student at Science Po in Paris, spoke movingly about her involvement since 2012 with the “Youth Parliament” sponsored by the Germany-Poland Intercountry Committee and the relationships formed between German and Polish youth at the annual event. The group recently expanded to include French youth in what Roehrig referred to as “a new Weimar triangle” that hopes to do something impactful.
Building peace through intercultural dialogue was a theme addressed by UNESCO representatives, Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Rotary program alumni alike. Eric Falt, Assistant Director General for External Relations and Public Information, was the first of several UNESCO staff to quote the organization’s motto, “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
Andrezza Zeitune came to UNESCO after completing a program as a Rotary Peace Fellow. “Changing the world is a bit difficult, but we’re on the right path,” she said, pointing out that of 889 Peace Fellow alumni, 120 are in government, 69 are professors, 64 in research and 49, including her, work for the UN.
Monique Mujawamariya, a Canadian originally from Rwanda, was particularly poignant when she pointed out that she had 10 minutes to speak about the rights of women in countries in armed conflict. She said she didn’t need ten minutes because, “in countries in armed conflict, there are no rights. Period.” She got us all on our feet when she called for everyone to “stand up against arms proliferation.”
The conference ended with the presentation of a declaration approved by RI President Gary Huang: On this day, 4 April 2015, at Maison de l’Unesco in Paris, France, Rotarians reaffirm their commitment to sustain civil peace through Rotary’s culture. This encourages loyal and fair behaviors, the respect of human rights, mutual understanding, sustainable social and economic progress, and ethical governance. All these elements help build the social cohesiveness of a country, which is a prerequisite to peace.